While preaching from the Gospel of Mark, Brian K. Blount, president of Union Presbyterian Seminary, used a word in his sermon to describe our country’s relationship to guns: demonic.
It is relevant to note that demonic possession involves the control of language (for example, Mark 5:7–10). The demon speaks from the human body, and also the body politic. In theory, guns are our possessions, but it as if we are possessed.
The guns speak for us.
I was a senior in high school when the infamous school shooting occurred at Columbine. The following week, metal detectors sprang up like ungodly weeds around the picturesque stone buildings of my school. But even more jarring than that, I remember the change in rhetoric. It was not only the sudden flourishing of new words like “lockdown;” words like “safety” and “protection” choked the life out of words like “learning” and “education.” Yes, it is certainly appropriate to address a new threat. But educators, politicians, and parents were possessed by the zeal to protect students without coming to grips on gun reform.
Now, I am the father of a son in elementary school. After a few weeks of being walked to the door of his first-grade classroom, my firstborn mumbles, “Bye, Dad,” as he endures my quick hug before flying ahead with his friends, their backpacks bouncing merrily. As students disappear into the big, brick buildings, I sometimes think of the bulletproof backpacks now being sold. Every so often, I wonder what the light might have been like that morning outside the school in Newtown. Was it as pretty as this day and as full of bright birdsong?
Guns possess our entire nation, not just our schools. In response to a mass shooting at a church in Texas, our congregation formed a task force to look at our safety procedures. As we spoke, the adults in the room realized that none of us had any experience with a lockdown. That’s when a young mother said quietly: “Ask my middle schooler. She’s knows exactly what to do.”
Those words caused a shiver to pass through everyone in the room. Demons convulse the possessed in the presence of the truth (Mark 9:20). Personally, I was tempted to continue down the path of least resistance, creating a policy that, honestly, I thought we would never have to use.
But the guns are still speaking. They are Legion (Mark 5:9). To ignore the demons allows them to grow stronger.
Once, the disciples were unable to cast out a demon from a young boy, and Jesus responded that only prayer can drive out that kind (Mark 9:29). But let us be clear: Jesus did not mean that uttering “thoughts and prayers” is an excuse for inaction. There are policies that we must protest and reforms we must make. Our challenge is to overcome our cynicism, which is the cousin of despair.
Members of our church have become more involved in groups like Moms Demand Action that advocate for public safety measures to combat gun violence. We are more and more engaged with the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness, which seeks “to translate the church’s deep convictions about justice, peace and freedom from words into reality.”
From words into reality — I know that there are churches in which such advocacy would be labeled, even libeled, as too political. But, as Blount preached, Jesus gives us the power over the demons (Mark 6:7). I believe churches, along with other communities of faith, have a pivotal role to play in speaking against gun violence in the name of The Word.
The guns have been speaking for a long time. When she identified her child’s proficiency in lockdown drills, the young mother named a symptom of this demonic possession in our society. Jesus said, “The time has come” (Mark 1:15). His followers must speak truth to power until all are freed and living in a bright new day.
ANDREW TAYLOR-TROUTMAN is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the author of “Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems.” He and his wife, who is also a pastor, are rattled and blessed by parenting three young children.